Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
eeepc / two behringer mixers / various guitar pedals and resonating bodies
maxmsp / logic / reason / soundhack / argeiphontes lyre / amadeus pro
Electronic Music other: Touring: by car or by train?
Written April 28 2009 , Tags: touring, advice
Howdy folks -
Tripnikk and I are gearing up to begin planning a tour together for sometime next year and we started discussing our mode of transportation the other day. Electronic musicians are in an interesting position I think in that it's actually possible for us to hit the road via public transit with not much more than a backpack and a suitcase. So, I thought I would bring the discussion here and ask what your experiences have been with these two approaches!
Tripnikk and I gave the train a try together last year and I really enjoyed the whole experience! He makes a very convincing argument for car transport too though - he just returned from a month-long tour via car. Here, to wit, are the pros and cons we started tossing around plus a few more I'm making up on the spot - please add more and weigh in! Some of this is pretty USA-specific, but I don't mean to limit the discussion to US tours obviously!
* Cheap. A $400 Amtrak ticket will get you unlimited rides for a month. Megabus tickets can make certain legs of the trip dirt cheap. Like, price-of-a-latte cheap.
* Eco-friendly. I won't belabor it, but you know.
* Train rides can be work time too - we spent most of our time on the Amtrak in the dining car patching and practicing and music making together which was awesome.
* Not as flexible as driving - we have to plan around the limits of the train and bus system.
* Transport to and from train and bus stations is an issue if we don't know anybody in the town we're going to. If we're doing it right though, that shouldn't be as much of an issue.
* Have to travel light.
* Flexible route and schedule. We can travel when we want to and be more flexible about where we go if we want.
* More storage space - we can load ourselves down with more merch and music gadgets and stuff if we want.
* Tripnikk says it is cheaper to drive than bus or train it.
* Renting, borrowing, or buying a car can be an expensive hassle.
* If the car breaks down, we're fucked.
* I never learned how to drive. (Haha, this may or may not apply to you)
Both ways are fun for touring, train is less stressful sometimes, depending on where you're going. Nothing beats a good old American road trip though.
i travel constantly to do gigs by train. this does limit what you can take - one bag for gear, another for personals.
it also means i can make tunes and work on the train. cars are cool tho - you can pull up outside and dump your gear.
parking is a nightmare in the uk - prolly same in states and last time i toured in a car all profit was taken by congestion fines and parking tickets.
with a car you can have your fave wu-tang mix on tho. and that goes a long way.
He neglects to mention that I travel with an instrument. He is able to fit his stuff in a fairly small hiking backpack (korg microkontrol and all) while I had a large hiking backpack + a guitar and amp last time. It was painful walking any sort of distance carrying that stuff, and I'm looking at possibly toting a cello the next time we do it.
Gigs being in proximity to a train or bus station was an issue. If we had a car we could get gigs anywhere and not be restricted to towns with a train station. I just got back from a month long tour in the south and doubt that many of the towns we played in were visited by amtrak. We could also travel a lot faster. We wouldn't have to plan our schedules around when trains were arriving or taking off, but could dole our our time more freely.
Cars also allow more lollygagging. If something looks interesting, you can stop a long the way, drive to a nearby beach, or go check out that roadside wax museum that has been hyped on billboards for the last 20 miles. Trains pretty much lock you into getting to the destination and going to the gig or hovering around it.
As far as working while traveling, I personally found it theraputic to not be staring at my laptop the entire time. Hecanjog and I also have a nasty habit of hacking shit together last minute for shows. We were patching while on the train last time for the shows we were going to be playing that same evening. While you can work in the car, I think the lack of tables and power outlets would help force us to get our shit together before we left so we can just enjoy the ride instead of cramming.
Busses suck. Nuff said.
After traveling both by train/bus and car, I have to say that I'm convinced car travel is better. Gas is down to a reasonable price now, and it allows much more freedom with your schedule, the venues you choose, finding places to crash, and getting your heavy gear to and from places.
Oh man, if you're travelling with a cello, no contest. Go by car.
Unless you have a prakticello: link
trains are cool. i road the train from chicago to portland. it was quite nice but can be spendy unless you go coach. depending on the length of your tour and geography you plan to cover this may not be a big deal but if you have any journeys that are 36+ hours it might get uncomfortable depending how well you sleep in chairs.
also, some times trains get delayed, sometimes even after you've been on your way, so if you go by train make sure you have a good window of time. and some parts of the country have better rails than others. north carolina and south of it is full of kidney busting rails.
being in a car sure does allow for super flexible travel. add a date/remove a date take detours to different places etc.
either way will be fun i'm sure.
didn't mean to make hecanjog sound like such a dick btw. I'll buy him flowers later.
travelling by car when only one person can drive is a stress in itself
You're a sweetheart Tripnik, and I'm a delicate flower, it is true. The idea of driving scares the crap out of me to be honest! lol
no, dude. he IS a dick. don't feel bad.
my two cents: if you have an instrument or amp, car is the only way to go. getting on a train, as well as to and from the train station with an instrument or amp will be a complete pain in the ass. do you really want to walk 15 blocks with a fender twin reverb plus luggage? also, a con to trains that wasn't mentioned: missing them. if you miss a train (something i have done waay too many times), you're totally fucked. that means cancelled show, no cash, no easy way to the next show. trains can be almost perfect for a single performer with just a backpack (erik), but for more than that i think you should go by car. timing and relaxation is also an issue. if you headlined a show at 1am in portland and had to play in san fran the next day, you'd have to hit the train that night in order to make it in time, which may not be possible. with a car you can set your own traveling schedule and make it to more shows ultimately. it IS more expensive (i've never been on a month long tour where we only spent $400 on gas) but you also have to factor in cabs (train station to venue, venue to hotel/someone's house, then back to train station), which will quickly get spendy and irritating. sure, no one has to drive on a train, but ultimately i think in this case you'd be more relaxed driving and not worrying.
sorry that was so long winded.
@bb01 which is exactly why i'm being a delicate flower about the idea of driving, since i'm nervous about the idea of doing my fair share of it - just being a passenger was never a consideration...
anyway, this was never meant to be a discussion specifically about our plans - more sharing of experiences please!
d'oh! forgot about the no-drivey thing. that IS a stressy part. eeny-meeny-meiny-mo....
personally, still can't imagine going out (i use instruments and an amp) without a car. just too many headaches otherwise for me. sure, you might break down, but there's always AAA.
This is very much specific to the USA. The train system in this country sucks. Bad. This will improve thanks to new funding from Obama, but it'll take a while.
In Europe you can easily get around on public transportation. Not so here. You're better off in a car, until 20 years from now when we have high-speed rail and better upgraded service on existing rail lines, more light-rail, etc. along the European model.
As for other options, I know and have seen a few (very good) eco-friendly bands that tour on bike: link and link
More details here: link
Tech info: link
And link DISCLAIMER: the "Rock the Bike" guy is a friend of mine, and I have worked for him (played keyboards in his backing band, at the Maker Faire last year).
Other news, etc link
on the west coast, trains are always hours late. i read in a rail newspaper a couple years ago that only 15% of the passenger trains were less that FOUR hours late! this could seriously compromise your chances of getting to gigs.
cars are cheaper too, there's no other way to do it in the US, imo. in europe though, trains and planes are way cheaper and more efficient than cars (for small setups).
car is the way to go. you aren't at the mercy of amtrak's schedules... amtrak always leave you with too much waiting around time.
with a car you have freedom to hang out more in cool cities... or get the hell out of bad ones.
but if only one person is going to drive you could be looking at some serious strain on your friendship. it can lead to a lot of resentment and fatigue.
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